7 Questions With Henry County (Georgia) historian, Gene Morris, Jr.(Mr. Gene Morris, Jr.is a Henry County native and earned his history degree at Shorter College in Rome Georgia. In 1992, he accepted the official, but unpaid, position of Henry County Historian. In 2000, he published True Southerners: a Pictorial History of Henry County Georgia. He continues to collect, research, and write local history and share it with others.)
How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I was raised in a very large extended family in Henry County, GA. Our people settled here in pioneer times and always lived in the country. Story telling was and is central to our family life and rituals. As a child, I was always fascinated with the stories about the people and places of the past. While other children would run off during storytelling, I hung around and took it all in. When I learned to write, I would hear a story I liked and find a pencil and scrap of paper and write it down. I collected those scraps of paper in a dresser drawer and then in boxes.
What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
When I went to college I majored in History and Economics. On moving back to Henry County after college I continued to be interested in history and started writing a weekly column for the county paper and doing a little speaking. Over the years I’ve researched and written around 40 historical markers that have been erected in Henry County schools and parks. I encouraged the Board of Education to use historically appropriate names for new schools and have helped name over 35 schools. I’m especially proud of this because it allowed the new citizens of our fast growing county to have an instant connecting with our past. Since 1991 I’ve conducted dozens of county history tours for Leadership Henry and Youth Leadership Henry and for many years spoke at the New Teacher Orientation Programs. In 2000 I published True Southerners: A pictorial history of Henry County; the first printing of 2500 sold out quickly and I’m working on a second printing.
How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
History is part of my every day and business life. Part of my business involves technical analysis of stocks and other markets and technical analysis is largely a matter of looking at charts, trends and cycles to see what the events of the past can tell us about the present and future. Like Mark Twain said; history doesn’t repeat itself; but, it does rhyme.
Why is studying/knowing history important?
History is the only guide we have outside of the Holy Bible and like the Bible, history shows the good and bad we’re all capable of. History also shows us that actions and decisions have consequences and those consequences can last a very long time.
What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about or teach about and why?
My favorite subject is Henry County, GA. History is so huge it is best enjoyed in small bits and is much easier to understand that way. I’m partial to the history of this county because it’s in my blood. My children are the ninth generation of the family to live here and I have literally thousands of ancestors and other relatives buried in graveyards scattered over these red hills.
In 1992 the Henry County Grand Jury and Board of Commissioners appointed me to the office of County Historian, to replace longtime historian Vessie Thrasher Rainer who died in 1987. The office of county historian was created by the state legislature in 1929 and I am the third person to hold this non-paying office. I enjoy saying; I accept neither payment nor criticism.
If someone wanted to begin the work of collecting family and/or local history, how would you advise him/her to proceed?
Keep it simple and do it. It’s really easy to think things to death. I am not a great writer or speaker; but, I find if people are interested enough in your topic they are very forgiving. Talk to old folks, make notes, dig deeper. I sometimes have young people ask me how to write a book and I always tell them the secret of writing. 1. Get a piece of paper; 2. Write down one word and then another. Words pile up into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into chapters and chapters into books. The writing is easy. The hard part is starting. Also, perfection is great for engineers and brain surgeons. For historians; I believe, it’s do you best to get something written down. It WILL NOT be perfect. It WILL be deeply flawed. But, it WILL be recorded and saved for others to work on who may have access to more information, better sources or greater insight in the future. If you don’t write in down it is likely nobody will and that bit of information, flawed as it may be, will be lost forever.